The darkness is overwhelming to oneself causing an immediate eclipse to a life. At first I had no idea why black – it was just the automatic ‘colour’ that I was drawn to. There was something compelling about making something black, changing something that was once perhaps beautifully pure and white – and transforming it into something dark, mysterious and mundane. To me, trying to describe depression to someone who has never experienced something along those lines is merely impossible. What cannot be written in words, I feel, is a lot better said in a piece of art.
Originally I was very afraid to create only black work. I followed along the lines of a more illustrative and cliché way of thinking about depression and other mental illnesses. It was getting too literal for me. I did not want to continue the façade of people who are mentally ill being deranged lunatics waiting to murder someone, just because they are ‘crazy’.
Before, I would play on the stereotypical outcomes of the horror genre in terms of mental health. Film is a massive influence to me, and I guess this where my horror fascination began. At this time in my practice I wanted to create fear within the audience, playing on the typical ideas of fear i.e. clowns, monsters, etc. The reason behind this is because when I was first diagnosed with depression, I had numerous types but one that was a big struggle for me was psychotic depression and I would see people or things that were not really there (even though I was 100% sure they were real). These beings that I would see I referred to as my monsters. And from here on in is where I became slightly obsessed with creating monsters. Creating a physical identity for an invisible cause. But like I said this became too cliché for me, as it was displaying the wrong idea of the mentally ill.
Again, I have gone off on a tangent, so let’s get back to the main topic. Black. Black was within my work as a metaphorical darkness as well as a physical one. When you’re in the darkness, you cannot see, it is black. And sometimes that is what it feels like being in my body or being in someone else’s with similar conditions. It’s the feeling of being lost and afraid in a dark place which is more than difficult to get out of. It is the feeling of being trapped and overwhelmed with not being able to see clearly for miles on end. Everything is dark. In terms of the literal darkness, when I was ill I was constantly just sitting in the dark by myself drawing etc. – may sound stereotypical but its true. I would also be awake to all hours, crazy times within the night when it was dark – and I would sleep throughout the day (if I could). It was hard to find some calm within the storm, but at night time – it was my favourite. It was when I could just be me, no one else was about to hear me or watch me or gawk at my weird habits, it was nice to just be in awe. But this is contradictive also – because at night it is lonely. It is lonely in the dark with no one else there to comfort you or tell you that it is all going to be okay. However, that is just the way it is in ones depressed mind.
After some research and some reflecting, I decided to do some research on the colour black and where the metaphors for the darkness associating with sadness etc. came from. One of the earliest findings I could find was about Hippocrates (460BC-370BC) – a Greek physician who still to this day is a greatly recognised figure in the field of medicine. Hippocrates believed that depression and other mental illnesses were due to natural causes, rather than the supernatural. He divided mental illnesses into three categories; mania, melancholia (depression) and phrenitis (brain fever). Depression was merely an imbalance of bodily fluids (in Hippocrates terms, humors). The humors were split into four different categories; yellow bile, black bile, phlegm and blood. Depression was believed to be an imbalance within the humors, particularly that there was too much black bile and this is what caused such prolonged melancholia. It seems that throughout human existence, black has always been associated with darkness, both metaphorically and physically. The black, or the darkness accurately represents the idea of losing interest, losing hope, losing the will to live. The idea of feeling lost and that there is no end to this ominous suffering. The understanding the blackness is consuming, paralysing and indefinitely overwhelming. “Thus the colour of black humor induces fear when its darkness throws a shadow over the area of thought in the brain”. (Lawlor, 2012 p.27/28). This statement by Lawlor in “From Melancholia to Prozac. A history of depression”, demonstrates the connection and relationship between the metaphorical and literal terms of the black bile, and the darkness.
When I first started exploring the possibilities of working solely with black, I was a little apprehensive of how it would come across. I was nervous that I was ‘cheating’. That I was just painting something black and that was it – but I work in a way that has to be hard, it has got to be tough work. I am unsure why. I give myself more work than needed, I like things to be perfect – or not depending on how you look at it. First of all, I started just painting things black, things that I found interesting to me. From paper that I had made all the way to parts of trees (I have an obsession with the forest). As I have been working throughout my practice I have began to collect different objects/materials which speak to me “Hannah, I need to be painted!” – maybe not so literally but in my head, yes – for sure. My practice usually is a combination of black works in some shape or form. I’m not such a fan of colour (as a rule) as I like the simplicity of black. It is so sleek, simple and elegant but also it has all these dark connotations associated with it.
Black is the new black.
It is not as simple as it seems. It is the darkness within us.